In the decades leading up to the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Republican Party dominated U.S. politics. The Republicans gained power shortly before the American Civil War in the 1860s and more or less maintained that power until the elections of 1930. During that time period, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate. They also controlled the White House for most of that time period, winning 14 of 18 presidential elections.
The Crash - Depression Begins
Republicans dominated presidential elections in the 1920s and also controlled both houses of Congress in 1929. This is the year the stock market crashed, causing many Americans to lose their savings and plunging the nation into a deep recession. Many people blamed the political party in power – the Republicans. The Democratic Party, for its part, seized the opportunity to present itself as the party that could offer solutions to the Americans who were most deeply affected by the onset of the Great Depression – the poor and unemployed.
Republicans – and particularly President Herbert Hoover – pointed to World War I and the depression in Europe that followed it as the primary cause for the Great Depression. Hoover proposed that the solution to the depression was to offer loans to farmers and businesses and to otherwise wait until market conditions improved on their own. The Democratic Party – particularly then-New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt – contended that the Depression was the result of unsound U.S. economic policy. The Democrats suggested that the federal government needed to take an active role in advancing programs to protect people from unemployment and poverty.
The New Deal
The Democratic message was generally well received, especially among the poor, organized labor, immigrants, farmers, and minorities. Adding these votes to the solid bloc the Democrats already had in the South helped the Democrats gain power in the early years of the Great Depression. They took control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans in the 1930 midterm elections and the Senate and White House in the 1932 elections. The Democrats quickly set about introducing a new social program, called the New Deal, which introduced programs such as Social Security, welfare and the National Industrial Recovery Act.
Democratic Dominance Continues
The Republican Party continued to founder in the wake of the popularity of the New Deal, reaching a low in 1936. That year, Democrats won 331 seats in the House of Representatives; the Republicans won only 89. Democrats also gained firm control of the Senate and won by a landslide in the presidential election. President Roosevelt would go on to win a third term in 1940 and a fourth in 1944. To make matters worse for the Republicans, the Democrats maintained control of both houses of Congress for the next 40 years, with the sole exception of the 1952 elections and the terms that followed – 1952-1954 for the House and 1952-1958 for the Senate.
- University of Illinois: The Depression in the United States: An Overview
- Cyber Economics: A Case of Unemployment
- Austin Community College: The Crash and Early Depression
- Collin Community College: The Great Depression and the New Deal, 1929-
- Princeton University: Myopic Retrospection and Party Realignment in the Great Depression
- Tripod.com: Responses to the Great Depression by Hoover and FDR
- USConstitution.net: Results of Presidential Elections
- Boundless: The Roosevelt Administration
- History.house.gov: Party Divisions of the House of Representatives
- United States Senate: Party Division in the Senate, 1789-Present
- Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images